Two current students, Dysron Marshall ’20 and Kelvin Tejeda ’20, spent the summer building the new Williams Mobile app. The app is listed as developed by Williams Students Online, and accordingly it links directly with some WSO services (the Facebook, Factrak, etc). Its goal seems to be to unite services that currently exist in various places across the Williams website, on WSO, and elsewhere, into one service that makes them easier to access.

First of all–awesome effort by these two! They seemingly did this entirely for free and of their own accord (see later in the post for more on that). It’s a nice, snappy app, and they definitely deserve acclaim for their work!

I used a handful of apps related to Williams life while I was there. A lot of time, I just accessed Williams websites from my phone: Eats 4 Ephs to check the menus at dining halls and decide where I wanted to eat, PeopleSoft sites for records and logging work hours, LaundryView to save myself the walk down to the laundry room and check in advance if it was in use… Last year, Williams introduced the GET App ostensibly to unite some features, but which I only really used to add money to my ID when I’d go to do laundry and realize I was out of money. During my first year there was some sort of dining app, student-created I believe, that made Eats 4 Ephs a little prettier. And, of course, there was Yik Yak, the late and great app that really made sure I knew everything I needed to.

These students announced their summer’s-long work to students with Facebook posts: one, to Class of 202X Facebook groups saying the following:

And one with a meme, in the Williams meme group, Williams College Memes for Sun Dappled Tweens:

As the first post says, they’re hoping to get administrative support for their app, so that students can develop it and actually get paid. I don’t know what the status of WSO getting administrative support is, but I imagine the app itself could get funded in the same way if WSO does; I feel less confident about it being possible to get students paid for developing the app. That was always something that confused me, though; do WSO student developers get paid for providing an incredibly useful service, or is it treated as a club would be, where the service itself gets funded (hosting, servers, etc) but not the actual development?

Below the break, a quick look at the app!

The app can be found on the Apple Store and on the Google Play Store.

It’s great that they developed for both platforms! So many student apps get developed only for one, which makes sense; developing for both major platforms takes a lot of time, both for development and maintenance as well as for getting it approved through both App Stores, which can be a very annoying process. Hobbyists who aren’t sure if their app will go anywhere will very often only develop for one platform, likely the one they use for ease of testing. But in this case, to get the support of the student body, you really only have one shot to put out a convincing product for them to try, and if only half can use it upon launch (well, maybe more–I suspect more students have iPhones on campus than Androids, with no real proof other than my conspicuous exclusion from iMessage group chats), it won’t be successful.

The app provides a view for Daily Messages. Not sure how valuable this is; a lot of students don’t read Daily Messages in their email, and I don’t know if having it transposed to an app format will make that percentage go up any.

Similarly with the events view–there are so many events in a given day at Williams that I’d almost never go through the events webpage, which also powers Daily Messages.

That said, I really like the option to directly add events to my Google calendar from Daily Messages, if I link my calendar through the app. Since I was one of the few people who religiously read Daily Messages in my email, I’d probably be willing to transition to reading them in the app just for the ease of then adding events I’m interested in directly to my calendar.

A very nice UI that consolidates info that I used to go to three separate webpages to get to: dining hall hours, dining hall closure information, and menus. If this manages to stay updated well (which I suspect, to do perfectly, involves more than just pulling information from those webpages, since, for example, the menu website is often glitchy and incorrect, showing dining halls as serving meals when they’re closed, etc), this will be super helpful.

There’s a WSO tab. Since I can’t log into WSO for Facebook/Factrak any more, I didn’t check out much here. Still, it seems a no-brainer that an app developed in conjunction with WSO would incorporate a mobile-first format for that information, which WSO long neeeded.

Finally, the “Random Links”–or, sorry, “Resources”–page. Some feel more obligatory than others–since Student Academic Records and Human Resources, for example, just pull up the same web interface that I’d get by going directly to those pages in my mobile browser, I don’t know that I’d use the app to access those.

Others, on the other hand, seem extraordinarily helpful. Laundry View was always horrifically annoying to get to, requiring navigating through several layers of pages and dropdowns (or, you know, bookmarking the page, if you’re smart, which I apparently wasn’t). So, great–an easy, direct way to view it!

…or not! Oops. (also, based on the URL it’s trying to load, I’m not sure if the app would save me the grief of all those drop-down menus, anyway, or if it’d just be another browser-in-app view.

Overall, it’s a really good version one of a rather useful app, with some very good design! I have a feeling that students will want to support it, at the very least, because such an app has been necessary for so long; and, there’s the perception that, if students support it, the administration will support student developers, which is always a nice (though unlikely) thought.


(P.S. I got burnt out writing the sequel to last week’s post, The Real Problem at [Williams] is Not Free Speech, which is why I’m publishing this instead.)

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